Fatty Acids and Your Child: What You Need to Know

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Our children are becoming increasingly burdened by poor nutrition and its consequences. There exists an imbalance of essential fatty acids in the diet. The typical American diet has an over abundance of omega 6 fatty acids. What is an essential fatty acid, EFA? Simply put, these are fats that our bodies need to function properly, especially our brains and the immune system. There is a large body of evidence that shows that the modern American diet is inadequate for proper EFA balance.

Omega 6 fats are found in vegetables, seeds, grains and their oils as well as in animals fed these products. They are necessary, but we consume far too much of them. The dramatic increase in dietary omega 6 fatty acids has come mostly from the intake of processed foods. These foods contain large amounts of soy and corn oil, sources of omega 6 fatty acids. Unfortunately, these fats are the precursors for the immune systemís inflammatory cascade. The final result is an increase in disease burden through increased inflammation.

Omega 3 fats are found in fish, grass, almonds, flax and wild game meats. They are precursors to EPA and DHA, two fatty acids that our bodies utilize for brain and immune system function. Omega 3 fatty acids compete and reduce the harmful excessive omega 6 end products. Diets rich in omega 3 foods are associated with decreased cardiovascular morbidity, post partum depression, reduced neuropsychiatric disease morbidity and improved eye health. Looking at this list of foods, it is likely that your child does not get enough of these important EFAís.

Inflammation in our bodies is essential for normal healing processes, such as a sprained ankle or infection control. However, balance is the key to health and wellness. Excessive dietary omega 6 fatty acids are analogous to a tank of gasoline waiting around for a fire(disease) to feed and burn out of control. Inflammation is likely a root cause of most of our chronic diseases in children and adults. Therefore, a balanced essential fatty acid makeup in our diet will result in better brain and immune function while decreasing abnormal inflammation.

The take home message is to limit processed foods and try to get your omega 6 fats from whole foods, not their oils. Practically, this means avoiding fried foods, most commercially produced meats, snack foods made with soy, corn and other seed oils. If you prefer to eat meat, eat it sparingly and eat grass fed varieties that are hormone and antibiotic free.

Parenting is a life long responsibility. Educate your children by example and through love. Teach them to eat for life and wellness. As always, love your child, love your child and then love them some more all while parenting them.